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Beyond Australia Day

Tuesday, 30 January 2018  | Glenn Loughrey

 Changing the date of Australia Day is a distraction. There, I’ve said it. It is not that the issue is not one to be considered at some time, but the energy being focussed on it by politicians, by media and on Facebook could better be spent on addressing the issues that count.

Australia Day is offensive, not for the day or the date, but for what it represents – the ongoing genocide of Aboriginal[1] People in this country in which all non-indigenous people are complicit. Now, I can already hear people drawing breath ready to defend themselves – they weren’t there, they didn’t make the decisions, it was a long time ago and more. The truth is you were there because you are here and you have benefited directly from the eradication of Aboriginal People from their land.

As Peter Carey says, 'You wake up in the morning and you are the beneficiary of a genocide' - you are complicit. The property you own, the businesses you work in, the government and councils who service you and the churches you worship in are all built on stolen land. This land was stolen at the cost of the blood of Aboriginal People.

William Cox is alleged to have said in 1824 that the only solution was ‘the eradication of this vermin … And that includes women and children’.[2] The result? By 1872, no tribal person existed in the area around Mudgee in NSW. Dynasties were built, churches bequeathed and infrastructure developed as a direct result of the destruction of local people.

Churches, particularly the English State Church, not only benefited directly from, but also played a significant role in, the destruction of culture, language and spirituality. This continues with churches seeking to convert Aboriginal People from their spirituality to Christianity, continuing the destruction of culture and the assimilation or mainstreaming of Aboriginal People. Aboriginal People should be allowed to maintain their spirituality and culture and not be required to forego such to be accepted in society. If, being fully able to determine their own spirituality, they make a conscious decision to become Christian, then so be it, but they must not be coerced to do so by others. This is important as the process of evangelisation has led to the loss of culture and cohesiveness of Aboriginal society and can amount to genocide under the UN Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

Australia continues the project of genocide on our people. The 2007 Northern Territory Emergency Response suspended the Racial Discrimination Act, stealing once again the property and land of more than 70 communities across the Northern Territory. This intervention was as illegal as the invasion of this country by the English. The intervention continues and benefits only white people who participate as workers of the organisations that now rule these communities. This includes well-meaning young people who go into the communities as teachers, nurses and administrators and benefit financially as a result.

What is lost on white Australia is the deep trauma felt by Aboriginal People as a result of 229 years of genocide. Self-harm, suicide, violence, substance abuse and more find their roots in the dislocation of people from their country, law, language, ceremony and kin, and from their song-lines and tribal governance structures. Spend some time in talking circles alongside mob and it doesn’t take long to feel the despair in the lives of those around you. You feel it in your body. This despair can only be rectified by something other than symbolic acts. Simply moving Australia Day or converting people to Christianity is insufficient to deal with the grief and loss Aboriginal People have experienced and continue to experience. Doing something more may eventually lead to the date being changed - it will come naturally and will not need to be forced because we will all agree.

What is that ‘something more’? It includes the following:

  • Recognise our sovereignty over this country. This country was not ceded and therefore we remain the only sovereign people in this land. It is to be remembered that in Aboriginal culture the land is sovereign because it holds within it everything that Aboriginal people need for existence – law, tradition, language, ceremony and kinship. The land owns the people; the people do not own the land. The land has birthed the people; that is why they are the sovereign people of this land.
  • Recognise and accept our language, law, ceremony and culture. Recognise and accept that we continue to have the right to enact our tradition on our own country without interruption or control. This is because we are the only people with legal sovereignty, because the country was invaded and no treaty or reparation was made for those affected by the war that followed and that continues.
  • Support Aboriginal people in their demands for a sovereign treaty and a Makarrata. This is their response to the request to develop a way forward by the Commonwealth government in 2017, and it is the only place to begin. The word ‘sovereign’ is the key. As already explained, Aboriginal People are the sovereign people of nations that were invaded and no treaty or agreement has been made to share sovereignty. Therefore Aboriginal sovereignty is still in place and, unless the Commonwealth government recognises that sovereignty and treats with Aboriginal people as equals, there is no going forward for either.
  • Resist the temptation to have an opinion. First listen to those directly affected by the ongoing oppression and racism. Much of what is used to form opinions is based on half-truths and innuendo from shock jocks and sensationalist media, chance encounters people have on or around Australia holidays or something they have heard from another who heard it from someone else.
  • Resist the temptation to help. We can do it for ourselves if we have the resources and space to do so. Much of the help Aboriginal People receive is paternal – ‘we know what you need better than you do’. Much of this help has not improved the situation but has reduced many Aboriginal people to be dependent on others to fix it. It is this kind of help that has instituted the reliance on welfare, for example. We require a sovereign treaty to return our capacity and dignity, not more unasked-for help.
  • Call out our churches for the ongoing role they have played in the destruction of our culture and spirituality, the taking of land for churches and the continuing proselytising of aboriginal people. The proselytising is often done for the benefit of those sharing the Gospel and does not involve true engagement with and of the people and their needs. As noted before, if Aboriginal People have control of their land, are fully self-determining and are culturally aware, then they can and will make positive decisions, including the decision to accept the Gospel message.
  • As Christians, fight for reparation for the churches’ role in taking children and breaking up families. Apologies and inclusion in constitutions are only symbolic. Churches are to find ways to do treaty with local Aboriginal communities and to pay reparation for the taking and use of the Aboriginal Peoples’ land.
  • As Christians, seek forgiveness from Aboriginal People, undertake reparation and pray that God is merciful towards the churches’ continuing blindness. Whatever story the church and Christians tell about themselves is not matched by the experience of our people. The relationship between the church and Aboriginal People is conflicted, and becomes more so as more and more of the story is heard. The role the church played in the mission era and the assimilation or Stolen Generation era, and the events considered in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse, have had a major impact. Much of what the church did in these eras may have been deemed to be benign or helpful by them, but were a part of the overall strategy to destroy a people and their culture. Almost every radio interview I do finishes with the question, ‘Why should we trust the church?’

In the last two weeks, I have met with mob who are deeply traumatised by a system that benefited the church. The destruction caused by this ongoing trauma is powerful and real. These people are waiting not just for a ‘sorry’ but for the cessation of hostilities and reparation for the years during which the churches have used their land to speak against them. They are waiting be treated as real people, given back the land that was stolen and respected with the right to be in charge of their own people and land.

The dislocation of Aboriginals from their country (which holds their entire law and identity), the destruction of sacred sites and song-lines, and the taking of children from families (which is now occurring at rates never before experienced) have resulted in deep inner personal and generational trauma. This trauma is expressed in addiction, violence, self-harm and suicide. It is further accelerated by the out-of-control incarceration rates, below third world levels of education and health, and more.

One of the healers is a sovereign treaty recognising Aboriginal people. This would lay the foundation for addressing the compound nature of the trauma experienced by individuals and families, which requires cultural awareness and, in particular, mindfulness of the complex nature of Aboriginal culture. For example, the word ‘Uluru’ is not only a place name but also a family name. To use that name for anything other than the recognition of a place requires permission from the family whose name it is. Therefore, we now call the statement developed there ‘The Statement From the Heart’. And there is much more.

We have had many false starts in our journey to freedom; the 1967 referendum, Mabo, Rudd’s Apology and the Statement From the Heart are but a few of many. I fear we cannot experience another. We are hoping that a sovereign treaty is the real deal and we call upon all Australians to work with us to right the wrongs of the past and the present.

Further Reading

Bruce Pascoe, Dark Emu: black seeds: agriculture or accident? (Broome, Western Australia: Magabala Books, 2014).

Colin Tatz, Australia's Unthinkable Genocide (Curtin, ACT: Xlibris, 2017).

Bronwyn Carlson and EBSCOhost, The politics of identity: who counts as Aboriginal today? (Canberra, ACT, Aboriginal Studies Press: 2016).

My website, https://www.redshoeswalking.net/category/indigenous/, contains articles I have written on this subject.

Glenn Loughrey is a Wiradjuri man and Anglican priest at St Oswald’s, Glen Iris. He is an artist who explores his identity and story, and was a finalist in the Doug Moran Portrait Prize 2017. He is engaged in the dialogue for treaty, sovereignty and self-determination for Aboriginal people.


Thumbnail image: Australia Day speaks of the replacing of one culture with another by building the legacy of those who died. This painting contains around 25,000 brown dots representing the more than 65,000 Aboriginal people killed in the invasion wars. These are then overlaid with the church, Harbour Bridge, Opera House and Sydney Cricket Ground, as well as houses and farms depicting the ongoing destruction of people and culture.

First image: Exile: Self Portrait of the Artist as an Aboriginal Man, which was Glenn Loughrey’s finalist in the Doug Moran Portrait Prize 2017.

Second image: Treaty is about the tenuous process of bring the two sides together to sit in the centre an talk. It will be hung as a banner on St Paul’s Cathedral in Melbourne for most of 2018.

[1] Through out this document I use the word Aboriginal instead of First Nations People or Indigenous. Aboriginal is the word most people use to describe themselves. The other two terms are either terms used to describe people in other nations such as the United States of America and Canada (‘First Nations People’) or as a generic term at an international level (‘Indigenous’).

[2] Bruce Elder, Blood on the wattle: massacres and maltreatment of Aboriginal Australians since 1788 (Frenchs Forest, NSW: New Holland, 2003). While there is discussion about exactly which Cox said this, William or his son George, there is no question as to whether it was said.



Arthur Marriott
February 7, 2018, 3:05PM
I'm disappointed in Ethos as this is usually for subjects that show a Christian argument about scripture and Christian issues. To print a political piece aiming at our guilt is outside of the Ethos mandate as God is not brought into this argument. I dismiss this is some way, agree that the indigenous were badly treated and why didn't they throw out the settlers when they arrived? The referendum vote of 1967 allowed indigenous Australians the right to sovereignty of this country for in this democracy it is the people who hold sovereignty by the majority vote of who rules this nation. I don't accept this guilt trip.
February 11, 2018, 1:17PM
Thank you for this article. As a (pseudo) white Australian, the arguments made by Glenn put me in defensive mode. But while they are unsettling and take me out of my comfort zone, they are nonetheless true and I respect him for expressing them.

On the other end, as much as I appreciate that almost without exception all forms of intervention have been and continue to be destructive, where Glenn admonishes to us 'resist the temptation to help' seems to me a self-defeating credo. No engagement in confronting the genocide of Aboriginal People is hardly a solution.
Andrew Kulikovsky
February 11, 2018, 3:26PM
This is a very inflammatory and - I would argue - slanderous article.

The list of demands include continual reference to 'we' Aboriginal people as if the author is speaking for all Aboriginal people. But Aboriginal people are not a monolithic group. They consist of numerous 'nations' that have deep seeded enmity among them. It should also be pointed out that many well-known Aboriginal leaders, including Bess and Jacinta Price, Warren Mundine and Anthony Dillon, do not share the author's views.

According to the author, fulfilling our Christian duty and mission to go into all the world and make the nations disciples (Matt 28:19-20) is tantamount to genocide!

Not only is that an absurd suggestion, it is a very curious thing for an ordained minister of a mainstream church to utter - and for an evangelical organisation like Ethos to publish!

The author believes Aborigines still have sovereignty over Australia, but under international law, all conquests and annexations prior to WW2 are deemed valid and legal.

The author is correct in stating the traditional Aboriginal belief is that they don't own the land, but the land owns them. Indeed, this was one of the issues in the formulation of Native Title, which does include exclusive proprietary rights to land. But if Aborigines don't own the land then how can it be stolen from them?

If all non-Aboriginal people are complicit in genocide, then does that not also mean that many of Mr Loughrey's non-Aboriginal ancestors are also complicit?
February 16, 2018, 4:44PM
Thank you Glenn! Your article is a sobering reminder to me of how much I, as a white person, think I know it all when it comes to what's going on for Aboriginal people.

In the 15 years, I have taken some interest in this area I have learned much AND I still see how blinkered I can be towards the deep pain that exists for so many Aboriginal people in the light of dispossession, marginalisation and the great push for assimilation. I will continue to listen...

Thank you for offering the suggestions re 'something more' ...much food for thought in it.

And i would recommend to all the book you have put into further reading, Dark Emu, as a resource, and a great and easy read, to further our knowledge of Aboriginal culture.
February 16, 2018, 11:39PM

‘The church is one of those groups that seeks to explain life, and influence the stories and practices of the wider community. It is important to recognise that the stories we carry are not just interesting intellectual accounts of life. They become part of us and our identity.‘(i)

Rev. Glenn’s article is both timely and apt. It is the Australia we still face – this land has not been settled, and Aboriginal people across Australia suffer great injustices and ongoing trauma of dispossession, massacres, theft, and current polices of disempowerment and destruction.

The second (and third and fourth etc.) peoples of this land are the beneficiaries of past and ongoing injustice. Justice is at the core of church teachings and Glenn, amongst many First Peoples, continues to seek Justice and their rightful place in their lands. 

This article will confront as seen in the comments. But, like Jesus we are challenged by our times and must engage in the ethical dilemmas and injustices of our time. Like the blind man we are encouraged to step up, to be open, to see and to move forward. This does matter.

As Rev, Chris Budden adds, 

‘Why does this matter for Christians? Because as a community, Aboriginal people bear the image of God; an image that is denied when their culture, law, and social life is denied. Because we live on Aboriginal land, and our covenant needs to figure out what that means – and sovereignty and treaty are part of that. Because this is one way we love our neighbour. Because this is a step in restoring dignity and ending oppression.‘(ii)

Glenn speaks of First Nations Peoples of Australia - not just of one group. There are hundreds of Nations within our Nation-State of Australia, and many more thousands of A&TSI clans. They have lived in these lands for thousands of generations, for up to 60,000-80,000 years, yet are treated as second class citizens and as invisible. This needs to change. The threat to people is real today - they are excluded from policy decisions, dying young, being taken/imprisoned, and communities denied their kin and children. This is not life-flourishing. Institutional racism is a reality.

Rev. Loughrey wastes no time cutting through the increasingly distracting and painful inappropriateness of Australia Day. It’s about truth and Justice. This date will change – it is inevitable. He importantly speaks of the need for true recognition of the First Peoples of this land, through sovereign treaty. He breaks the silence of ongoing genocide in this land. [Some prefer to call it ethnocide.] Indeed, this is as ongoing as occurred in our brutal past.

We have massacre sites that are still unravelling(iii) and ongoing genocide through, for example, the NT Intervention and other policies.(iv) Most of the Close The Gap markers (that again reduce Aboriginal people to mere statistics to be measured) show us the continuing deterioration. This is fact. But these are human beings. These are our brothers and sisters.

Regardless of what you call it, destruction abounds. Most of us are blind to it - children are taken at greater rates than before, and the rate of Indigenous incarceration and self-harm/suicides soars and is near the near worst in the world. Remote peoples and their homelands are ‘starved/denied’ resources, including basic services and housing. They are being coerced off their lands.

Australia’s policies are overtly racist. We have returned to the era of protectionism and assimilation of old. The ongoing NT Intervention is a stark example and Aboriginal people continue to call for its end.(v) In the last 20 years we have regressed. For many we are still blinded by Terra Nullius; it is embedded in the psyche of our minds. This is Aboriginal land, it has never been ceded - we are living on invaded space and there has never been a settlement. This question is as relevant for churches as it is for the Australian state.

Aboriginal people call for justice, they call for treaty and recognition of their sovereignty. Can I recommend a few articles for those who struggle with/dispute this? And Sovereignty needs to be discussed:

• ‘Treaty Can No Longer Be Denied’, https://www.sydneycriminallawyers.com.au/blog/treaty-can-no-longer-be-denied/.
• ‘Sovereignty and Treaty’, Rev Dr Chris Budden (June 2017). https://assembly.uca.org.au/images/events/PNMC2017/Challenge-of-Sovereignty-Rev-Dr-Chris-Budden.pdf.
• Talk by Jon Altman on ‘Genocide and Intervention in Contemporary Indigenous Australia’.

• The UN’s ‘Preliminary study of the impact on indigenous peoples of the international legal construct known as the Doctrine of Discovery’, New York, 19-30 April 2010. The Doctrine of Discovery has served as the Foundation of the Violation of their Human Rights. I believe this discussion must be had both in our churches and throughout secular society, as The Statement from the Heart calls for. With PM Turnbull’s readily rejecting it, people call for Truth Telling and Treaty.

Thank you to Ethos and to Rev. Loughrey for publishing this challenging article and for opening up the discussion.


i. https://assembly.uca.org.au/images/events/PNMC2017/Challenge-of-Sovereignty-Rev-Dr-Chris-Budden.pdf

ii. https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/justactorgau/pages/32/attachments/original/1462343672/JustAct_Newsletter_May_2016_Petite.pdf?1462343672

iii. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-07-05/new-map-plots-massacres-of-aboriginal-people-in-frontier-wars/8678466.

iv. Talk by Jon Altman on ‘Genocide and Intervention in Contemporary Indigenous Australia’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kXoJms61mcM.

v. For example, see four statements from June 2017 at www.concernedaustralians.com.au.

vi. The name ‘Uluru’ not to be used, in association with this, as per protocol and the wishes of Anangu traditional owners, https://www.sbs.com.au/yourlanguage/aboriginal/en/article/2017/12/08/anangu-tribal-elders-ask-name-uluru-statement-heart-be-changed.

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